AIR POLLUTION:

Texas appeals EPA veto of 'flexible' permitting

Correction appended.

Filing its second legal challenge against U.S. EPA in as many months, the state of Texas has appealed the agency's decision to veto a state program overseeing air pollution permits for more than 100 of the state's largest facilities.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) filed the petition today with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking EPA to rethink its recent rejection of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's "flexible" permits program.

EPA sided last month with environmental groups that say the Flexible Permit Program (FPP) has led to dirtier air by setting emissions limits for entire facilities rather than each individual source. The agency formally disapproved the program after 16 years without a verdict, drawing criticism from industry groups that have operated under the permits for years (E&ENews PM, June 30).

In a statement today, Abbott said the program allowed large facilities to achieve reductions in the most cost-effective way. The state has reduced ozone by 22 percent and levels of nitrogen oxides by 46 percent since 2000, outpacing national figures.

"The net effect is greater regulatory efficiency, well-controlled facilities, and significant reductions in air emissions," the petition says. "In short, Texas' FPP improves air quality while helping regulators and regulated entities operate more efficiently."

Abbott has already challenged EPA's rejection of the state's "qualified facilities" program, which lets plants avoid requirements such as public review when they modify their plants (Greenwire, June 15).

The new challenge was applauded by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has highlighted the dispute in his re-election campaign by describing it as an example of overreach by the federal government.

"Texas has achieved greater improvements in air quality than the nation as a whole since 2000 through our use of incentives and innovation," Perry said today. "Instead of worrying about cleaner air, the EPA seems intent upon putting the jobs of tens of thousands of hardworking Texans at risk, mainly so the EPA can impose a system it says will be easier for Washington bureaucrats to understand."

Click here to read the petition.

Correction: The legal challenge to Texas' permit program was filed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, not the 6th Circuit, as an earlier version stated.

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